I was rather surprised lately to find out that a lot of psychology students and social work students constantly mix up these two disciplines and they don’t really know the difference. This is understandable because psychology and social work are related but very work disciplines. So in this psychology podcast episode, you’ll learn what are the differences between psychology and social work, how they’re similar and why both of them are very helpful to each other. If you’re interested in any form of applied psychology then you will definitely enjoy today’s episode.
Today’s episode has been sponsored by Applied Psychology Collection: A Guide To Developmental, Health and Forensic Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Introduction To The Differences Between Psychology and Social Work
In all fairness, I have been sort of meaning to do a podcast episode on this topic for ages because it has popped up on my radar a good few times when psychology students have mixed up our work with social work. At the time, I was a little confused because I know the differences so I was surprised that other people didn’t understand the differences either.
Yet on Tuesday, I was at my clinical psychology lecture and my lecturer made a brief comment about how the job of a social worker and clinical psychologist does get mixed up slightly. And that proved to be the tipping point for me to actually do a podcast episode on the differences but also the similarities since there is some overlap between our great disciplines.
As well as I have to admit, this is a lot more interesting than you first imagine but please continue listening.
Differences In The Names
Now please don’t make a sarcastic comment about the name being different as one is called social work and the other is called psychology. But it’s also the meaning of the names because -ology at the end of psychology means that it is an empirical field to study and it mainly focuses on the study of human behaviour. Then social work ends in work meaning that whilst social work does focus and require study for its worker. It is still focused on the applied angle because the work aspect takes centre stage and not the study aspect.
However, it’s important to note here that social work and psychology are similar in the fact that they both require you to study in order to work with people. Social work requires its people to learn how to effectively help people. Whilst psychology requires us to know how human behaviour works in order to help people.
Therefore, some people recommend that social work students take a psychology course because as they’re working with people they might as well understand human behaviour. As well as Masters-level social work courses require people to take a human behaviour module too, but they might as get a good foundation under themselves early on.
Additionally, other people recommend psychology students should take a social work course as well. Since it can help psychology students really understand how to work with and help the people they’re studying.
Personally, I like this idea and this is why I like clinical psychology because there is such a large overlap between the two whilst still being very distinctive.
Is Social Work Or Psychology Easier?
I think this is a brilliant trick question, because as I’ve been testing a lot of first and second years for my Final year Project at the moment, I’ve found out that tons of people think psychology is hard. They’re shocked about how much it covers, how complex it is and some people wish they have never chosen it.
Equally, some people think that social work is easier than psychology, because psychology covers everything. Social work does not. Psychology has thousands of subfields and topics that students need to learn. Social work does not. And there are so many statistics and computer programmes and other nightmares to deal with in psychology. But there is not in social work.
However, this is a trick question and a very false idea that has been created. Due to social work is not easier than psychology, and psychology isn’t easier than social work. Because they are very different subfields that require a lot of different learning.
For example, yes in psychology, you will have to learn about biological psychology, social psychology and cognitive psychology just to get a foundation under you. Before you then start learning about personality, clinical and developmental psychology. As well as R studio for statistics.
Yet you still have to learn tons in social work too.
So a very helpful way to remember this is simply, psychology is a science and social work is based on science. There are tons of different pieces of information to learn in both so there is no easier or harder option.
Is Psychology or Social Work More Applicable To The Real World?
I love this question because it is very easy and hard to answer. Since I know that social work mainly focuses every single lesson towards the student’s future career and it is very possible that you can use every single thing you learn in social work in your future career and everyday life. So in that respect social work is most certainly more applicable to the real world.
I think all of you listeners can support that too because come on, most of the stuff from cognitive psychology, biological psychology and personality. I don’t think we will ever use that in our everyday life, let alone future careers unless you specifically work in those areas.
Am I wrong?
However, psychology can be very applicable to the real world as well. That is the idea that developmental, clinical and forensic psychology are built on. How do we use psychological theory and knowledge and apply it to these problems. Therefore, psychology is very applicable to the real world and real problems too.
Differences Between Social Work and Psychology Ethics
When I was researching this episode, I came across a brilliant article about the differences between psychology and social work ethics. Now I won’t go into psychology ethics much for two main reasons. One, I have a book coming out in October 2023 called Ethics In Psychology, available for pre-order now, and the wonderful listeners of this podcast are all mainly psychology students and professionals so you all know the basics of psychology ethics.
Nonetheless, I was surprised to learn that the ethical guidelines that social work includes six values that psychology does not. These values are:
· Social justice
· Worth of the person
· Importance of human relationships
Now before I get a bunch of angry emails, I am not flat out not saying psychology doesn’t have these values. Hell, I think I’ve written tons about all of them in different forms and how important they are in different areas of psychology.
Yet the point I want to make is the service value of the ethical guidelines for social work is all about the work part. This emphasises that social work is all about the work and not necessarily the research and study angle like psychology.
In addition, I personally found this very interesting to read and I know it is controversial to say but I think it is largely true. But social work is grounded in anti-oppression theory whereas psychology is not necessarily. Since all social work introductory textbooks teach students straight away about oppression, discrimination and similar topics, but psychology textbooks are not.
And of course, there are areas of psychology that focus on social justice like community as well as liberation psychology. But as an entire discipline, social justice is not at the heart of what we do. Since social justice defines social work, there is no social work without social justice. And to some extent, social justice informs psychology but not absolutely.
Should You Do Both Social Work and Psychology Or One Or The Other?
Of course, as a psychology student, I would say do a psychology degree because I’m biased and I love psychology wholeheartedly. It’s amazing, fun and I love it.
Although, in all seriousness, I found one opinion that I like and I want to share with you since Ashley Maier, a teacher of psychology at Los Angeles Valley College, recommends that students take both social work and psychology. She says this because they both complement each other and despite the constant competition framing between students having to choose either social work or psychology. She proposes that this is a completely false choice and students should do both because it isn’t an either or not choice. It’s an both or and choice.
Personally, this has been an enlightening episode I think because it is important for us, as current or future, psychologists to look outside of psychology once in a while. Since our sister disciplines that look at human behaviour do have things to offer us and they can teach us more about behaviour. And sometimes those things can help us become better psychologists and at the end of the day, that is extremely important indeed not only for ourselves and our future careers, but also for the amazing clients we serve.
I really hope you enjoyed today’s clinical psychology podcast episode.
If you want to learn more, please check out:
Applied Psychology Collection: A Guide To Developmental, Health and Forensic Psychology. Available from all major eBook retailers and you can order the paperback and hardback copies from Amazon, your local bookstore and local library, if you request it.
Have a great day.
Applied Psychology Reference
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